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  • Douglas Carswell

America first means investing in defense

By Douglas Carswell

America first means investing in defense

America faces an axis of aggression.  China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are not only actively undermining US interests.  They increasingly seem to be working together.

How should America respond?


According to a new report published by Mississippi Senator, Roger Wicker, America needs a new national defense strategy capable of responding to this “emerging axis of aggressors”. “21 st  Century Peace Through Strength: a generational investment in the US military” offers a serious analysis of US military capabilities and makes some important recommendations.


Wicker calls for an immediate $55 billion increase in military spending in 2025, on top of the almost $900 billion existing budget.  The aim, he suggests, should be for the United States to spend around 5 percent of GDP on defense.


To put that in context, America today spends 3.4 GDP percent on defense, and has not spent more than 5 percent since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.  Reagan famously won the Cold War, facing down the Soviet threat by beefing up American strength.  Wicker envisions a similar approach in “Peace through Strength”.


What is really interesting about Wicker’s proposal is not the call for more money for the military, but his suggestion that there should be a “dramatic increase in competition in the defense industrial base”.  Senator Wicker is right.  Often, we think of applying free market principles to education or healthcare.  There is a very powerful argument for applying free market discipline to defense spending, too.


With the national debt growing, it is vital that America gets the maximum bang for every defense buck.  Wicker puts forward ideas as to how to make this happen through far reaching “acquisition reform”. Allowing more market competition in the defense sector would help ensure that America avoided the sorry fate of my own native Britain.


The UK spends about $70 billion a year on defense.  That might be less than a tenth of what America spends, but it still means that the UK has the sixth largest defense budget in the world, above Japan and roughly on a par with Russia.


Unfortunately, Britain has not been effective at converting what she is able to spend on defense into military muscle.  Despite spending all that money, British aircraft carriers seldom seem to carry many aircraft.  Indeed, the expensive new carriers don’t always seem to be able to spend much time at sea.  The less said about British tanks the better.


UK defense acquisition has been a series of costly disasters because the defense budget is often spent in the interests of various favored suppliers, rather than the military.


I first became aware of quite how bad British defense acquisition was on a visit to Afghanistan as a Member of the British Parliament.  Troops in Helmand complained about a shortage of helicopters, yet I noticed rows of American Black Hawk helicopters on the runway back in Kandahar.


Why, I wanted to know, didn’t we Brits just buy Black Hawks from the American company that made them?  I soon discovered that British defense acquisition is viewed by some as a giant job creation scheme.  Or else it is about filling the order books of well-connected companies, not giving the military what they need.

America needs acquisition reform to avoid defense dollars being spent by various vested interests, rather than on the best interests of the US military. Some will say that America cannot afford to increase defense spending.  I worry that America cannot afford not to.


Years of federal deficits mean than the US national debt is soaring.  There will be enormous pressures on federal spending.  All the more reason to ensure that the US gets maximum value for every defense dollar.


Let’s hope Wicker’s reforms are acted upon whoever is in the White House.


So often politics focuses on trivia. What Wicker has done is produce a serious study to address important geo political questions that the United States is going to have to deal with.


Putting America first does not mean ignoring what is happening on the other side of the world. Merely wishing away anything outside the Western hemisphere does not make the United States more secure. It ultimately means that the world’s problems will show up at the US border.


Putting America first means investing in defense. Wicker shows how we might do that.


Douglas Carswell is the President and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

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